The history behind the drive-in cinema
American drive-in theatres are an iconic part of American culture. Countless American movies and TV shows feature famous scenes involving drive-in movie theatres. Drive-in theatres aren't just limited to America, their popularity has grown so much that pop-up open-air and drive-in cinemas are popular as far afield as here in the UK.
Drive-in theatres may look pretty impressive and high-tech but they’ve actually been around for a very long time considering that television didn’t become widespread in American homes until the late 1940s and 1950s.
The first drive-in theatre was envisaged by Richard Hollingshead, a sales manager living in Camden, New Jersey, America. Hollingshead is said to have come up with the idea after witnessing his mother struggling to get comfortable in the seats at the movie theatres. Hollingshead first experimented with his idea in 1928 when he set up a projector and screen in the driveway of his own home. He placed a radio behind the screen and thought out the ideal spacing arrangements between cars so that everyone had a good view of the screen.
A number of years later in 1933 Hollingshead got his idea patented and opened ‘Park-In Theaters, Inc.’ His idea quickly gained in popularity and his patent was overturned in 1949 meaning that drive-in theatres began popping up all over America.
Drive-in movies peaked in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s just after the Second World War, at this time there were some 5000 theatres all over the country.
Nowadays the number of drive-in theatres has dramatically declined, with fewer than 360 drive-in movie theatres now in existence in America. The decline in the number of theatres can be linked to the growing number of walk-in theatres and the rise of DVD rentals and online movie streaming websites like Netflix and Lovefilm.
Drive-in theatres and other outdoor movie screenings remain a popular novelty in the UK with pop-up outdoor cinemas and drive-in theatres appearing for limited periods all over the country. Manchester is even home to what is believed to be the UK’s first permanent drive-in cinema.